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Film Fest 919 Review: ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ marks a return to McDonagh’s roots

(Searchlight Pictures)

After strutting onto the global cinema stage with his debut feature “In Bruges” in 2008 and earning his first Oscar nomination, director Martin McDonagh has spent the better part of the last decade toiling away in Hollywood with the low-key “Seven Psychopaths” and the awards juggernaut “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

The latter film was a smashing success by most metrics, but there was a fair share of critique about McDonagh’s writing, particularly in terms of trying to depict the experiences of rural America. Reactionary or not, McDonagh has returned across the Atlantic to his Irish roots and re-teamed with the leading duo from “In Bruges” – Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is a result worth waiting for, delivering more of McDonagh’s trademark black comedy and pitch-perfect performances, while also standing out as his most well-crafted and visually-striking film to date.

Colin Farrell as Pádraic Súilleabháin and Brendan Gleeson as Colm Doherty in “The Banshees of Inisherin.” (Searchlight Pictures)

The brilliance of “Banshees” is in its simplicity. It doesn’t feature a sprawling tapestry of characters, nor intricate subplots like McDonagh’s previous two films. Instead the director is getting back to basics here, with a quartet of performances that stand above most others this year and a seemingly straightforward premise: what if your friend suddenly no longer wanted to be your friend? That’s the situation Pádraic (Farrell) finds himself in when Colm (Gleeson) rebuffs his usual banter one morning on the fictional isle of Inisherin. What plays out as a result feels like a rich folktale about the ties that bind – and how far some are willing to go to break them.

Farrell has been one of Hollywood’s most-versatile chameleons for over 20 years, shifting with ease from slimy scumbag to handsome hero and everything in between, but 2022 is a true banner year. Most of the buzz earlier in the year surrounded his scene-stealing iteration of Penguin in “The Batman,” yet his work here is set to earn him his long overdue first Academy Award nomination. Pádraic is a delightfully dull everyman who takes joy in the basic pleasures of drinking with friends and taking his cows for a walk – not to mention the adorable miniature donkey he keeps close to him throughout. It’s this joyful stagnation in his life that heightens the disruption caused by Colm’s cold shoulder. Farrell gets to use every gear here, as his happy-go-lucky demeanor gives way to deep hurt, frustration and eventually spiteful anger.

Colin Farrell as Pádraic Súilleabháin and Barry Keoghan as Dominic Kearney in “The Banshees of Inisherin.” (Searchlight Pictures)

Colm’s changing worldview, to keep things vague, works in stark contrast to how Pádraic begins the story, but it’s his character who remains steadfast as his former pal begins to spiral. Gleeson’s deadpan grumpiness is reliably funny as ever, and he hasn’t lost an ounce of the chemistry he had with Farrell over 14 years ago. He is, however, usurped by Barry Keoghan’s Dominic as the supporting standout.

The young lad is the dimmest person on Inisherin, delivering what might be the funniest performance of the year, but instilling Dominic – who is beaten by his father and yearns for companionship, romantic and otherwise – with an overwhelming sense of melancholy. Dominic alongside Pádraic’s sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), are his two biggest sources of support in his conflict with Colm, and Siobhan is the sharpest of them all. Condon shines as she delivers some of the film’s wittiest dialogue and injects the film with a strong dose of warmth, her relationship with Pádraic being the healthiest and most-heartwarming of any we see on screen.

Elevating the film’s performances are the formal elements, which may be the strongest of any of McDonagh’s films to date. Cinematographer Ben Davis, who shot “Three Billboards” but is mostly known for his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, provides the most stunning images of his career. The camera drops into the Irish coast from the heavens, ascending at the film’s close, and there are no shortage of lush landscapes and richly-textured interiors and thoughtful compositions throughout. The entire tone of the picture is topped off with two-time Oscar nominee Carter Burwell’s soft, moody score, which may very well turn Burwell into a three-time nominee.

“Banshees” stands alongside the year’s most airtight and richly-layered films, with not so much as a line or scene out of place, just as effective as a simple black comedy as it is an allegory for the Irish Civil War, or even an analog for the civil unrest we continue to experience today, a hundred years later.

Star Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is now playing in theaters.

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Johnny Sobczak View All

Johnny Sobczak is an entertainment journalist and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in Media and Journalism and minored in Global Cinema. Johnny is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has been with Inside the Film Room since August 2019. He was named Senior Writer in January 2020 and co-hosts the Inside the Film Room podcast with Zach Goins. Johnny spends his days job-hunting, watching films and obsessing over every new detail of Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."

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